SkillSonics: Getting Swiss expertise to Indian vocational and skill training sector

Pragati Ratti Sharma
Pragati Ratti Sharma Sep 29 2017 - 8 min read
SkillSonics: Getting Swiss expertise to Indian vocational and skill training sector
Franz Probst, a Swiss lawyer and Founder and Chairman of SkillSonics, tells us about the huge potential in India for vocational training and his partnerships in India.

According to a KPMG-FICCI report, over 109 million incremental people will be required in India alone, across 24 key sectors by the year 2022. Yet, only 4.69 per cent of the Indian population has undergone formal skill training. These facts point towards the kind of opportunities that open up in the skill development and training, and vocational training fields.

Many international players in the field are recognising these opportunities and have entered India with their skill development programs. Since 2008, Swiss Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Industries Association (SWISSMEM), the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET), with co-funding from The Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), partner with the team of SkillSonics India in Bangalore and Zurich for the Swiss-Indian Vocational Education Training (SVETII). Under the lead of SkillSonics, the SVETII brings Swiss training benchmarks and methodologies adapted to India. The objective of the Initiative is to impart world-class training to entry-level, existing workforce as well as trainers and examiners in India.

Educationbiz spoke to Franz Probst, the Founder and Chairman of SkillSonics, on the sidelines of the 9th Global Skills Summit at FICCI. He is also Senior Partner and Chairman of PROBST PARTNER AG, a Swiss-based law firm focusing on corporate and commercial law that he founded in 1995. He told us at length about the huge potential in India for vocational training and also the partnerships of SkillSonics with corporates in India. Here are excerpts from the exclusive interview:

The potential in India

Probst says India has massive potential as far as vocational training and skill development are concerned. “There are a lot of young people looking for training and at the same time there are a lot of corporates looking for trained individuals. Vocational training of the Indian population is not just important for India but holds worldwide importance since by 2022-25, 15 per cent to 17 per cent of the global workforce will be Indian. The world right now is looking at getting potential and trained people from India,” Probst said.

He told us that SkillSonics is looking to have trained at least 1 million youth and existing professionals by 2022. “We are currently training people in the mechanical and electrical sectors specifically. We also see that women are interested and doing very well in this field, for example as Multi-Skilled Production Technicians. At the same time, we look at bringing more train the trainer courses so that the quality of the SkillSonics’ Swiss skills training is assured,” said Probst.

SkillSonics is also looking to spread out to train professionals in the other sectors. “We are expanding to new sectors, such as training for food processing technologists, commerce for office floor staff, the apparel industry as well as retail and construction. As we have done for the manufacturing and processing industry, we will also in these fields systematically introduce Swiss based content, course-ware, assessment know-how and certification adapted to India. And, as in Switzerland, we make sure that our products and services are completely demand and private sector driven,” he explained.

How partnerships work

At the Global Skills Summit, SkillSonics signed an MoU with FICCI. SkillSonics is also an NSDC partner company. Key for its work are the partnerships that SkillSonics has with private companies and institutes. “We have an increasing number of partnerships with private companies that engage in training, be it for themselves or as a CSR activity. We also work with institutes and can support planning, ramp-up and management of such organisations. Currently, our courses and programs are used in over 20 locations in India at companies with training workshops and institutes. Based on the MoU with FICCI, we will support FICCI’s own skill development efforts and use FICCI’s huge network to reach out to every corner of India,” Probst said.

He added that it is key to India’s skill development that, as in Switzerland, the whole private sector engages in training. “We have a tie-up with firms like ABB, Rhino Machineries, Ace-Foundation Institute, Texmo Industries, GMM Pfaudler etc. We enable them to train. We first assess the need together with them and then prepare the required courseware and materials to ensure that the identified need is met. Then we train and certify the required instructors, assessors, teachers and other VET governance staff. Once this is completed, the company or institute is ready to run our programs. At the final stage, we prepare, organise and ensure assessment and certification. So SkillSonics can be seen as a knowledge and implementation partner offering plug and play training solutions to companies and institutes,” he said.

The role of technology

We also spoke to Probst about the role that technology has to play in delivering these courses. “We have such possibilities available. However, the hands-on practical training cannot or only to a limited extent be replaced be e-learning or simulation. Also, our courses imbue soft-skills such as timeliness, communication, workplace organisation skills. This cannot be taught in classrooms only, but needs to be demonstrated and rehearsed in practice. That said, our courseware is digitalised where this makes sense, and we use demonstration videos and other tools to ensure maximum efficiency,” Probst stated.

“As of October 2016, SkillSonics will bring and implement in India a complete range of training courses for instructors, assessors, master trainers and VET managers. To kick-off this new program, SkillSonics will fly in trainers from Switzerland. This program is supported by the Swiss Government and run together with Swissmem, SFIVET and important technical training institutes such as the Mechatronics School Winterthur,” he added.

What India can learn from Switzerland’s VET sector

We asked Probst as what was the kind of difference that he saw in the Indian and Swiss skill development sector, to which he told us that the biggest challenge lied in skills not being valued in India. “A very important aspect is that I sometimes feel skills are not valued enough in India. In Switzerland, when you’re a young skilled professional, you will get a very good pay. Your skills and competencies are valued by your employer. The willingness to pay higher salaries for skilled workforce does not seem to be recognized throughout in India. I’m proud to say though that in our program, workers from rural backgrounds when trained are all getting jobs and well-paying ones. So there is an increasing awareness of the need for quality also in India,” he said.

He also said that Indian firms need to understand that training is in their own best interests. He added, “It is an investment in the companies’ competitiveness and productivity. If companies train their own people, skill them, to be ready for tomorrow like in Switzerland, the companies ensure their own future.”

Lastly, he said, “The third point is where the government comes in. Vocational training in India has been seen as something for dropouts. But it is not for dropouts. It should be seen as an alternative route to general education to start a career. This requires in turn that youth who has undergone vocational training must have opportunities to continue their training and education. The education system has to be permeable. Someone who has done an apprenticeship must have the opportunity to go back into general education.”

The road ahead for Vocational Training and Skill Development in India

Probst initiated the Swiss VET Initiative India together with Swiss partners and headed the pilot project launched in 2008 to introduce vocational education and training in India. He was instrumental in designing an approach that permits a rapid and sustainable expansion of the Swiss model in India. In 2011, Probst founded SkillSonics with GP Chandrakumar from Bangalore in order to expand vocational education and training throughout India and take it to other countries.

“If I look back, we started this program in 2008. At that time, there were no sector skill councils, NSDC was just newly formed, there was no strong framework to allow dual track training, and it was very difficult to do apprenticeship trainings in companies. We were among the first to have entered this space. If I look back, it’s enormous what has happened in the past 8 years. A framework has come up, a dedicated skill ministry has been formed, and the policies have evolved dramatically. As MSDE’s Secretary Rohit Nandan today said, ‘We consider that apprenticeships in shop-floors is the future of India’, that’s the point. All this has happened in a very short span of time and reflects a complete change of perception and approach from the government. In any country, such huge changes take years to happen. Here, it has happened within a few years only,” said a positive Probst.

He concluded with the hope that, “Seeing this tremendous development in such a short span of time, we are very confident that by 2022, India will have made tremendous progress in skilling its people. I’ve lived and gone to school in India 51 years ago and I know that this country can achieve progress very fast if its mind is set to go.”

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